At Kapshagai Lake

Back in Kazakhstan this week for a conference, I was able to find some time today for a trip out to the shores of Kapshagai Lake about 100 kms from Almaty to look at horses.

This herd of around 200 horses has spent the summer up in the Ili Alatau mountains on the Assy Plateau, which explains their superb condition. They are kept in the traditional way, with six stallions, each protecting a large groups of mares.

Although Thomas Atkinson never crossed the River Ili from the East, it was fascinating to visit this area with Magzhan and Sasha from Kazgeo. Kapshagai Lake is the result of a dam across the Ili, flooding the original channel at the point it breaks out of the mountains on its course towards Lake Balkhash. The dam was completed in 1970, although it was another 20 years before the lake was completely filled, due to concerns about the amount of water reaching Lake Balkhash.

I couldn’t resist the chance to get into the saddle of one of the herdsman’s horses. This herd will stay here throughout the winter, before returning next spring up into the mountains. The rifle the herdsman is carrying is to protect the horses from wolves and jackals.

Kazakh press coverage of the 2019 Zhetysu Expedition


Great coverage in the Kazakh press of this year’s Zhetysu Expedition! The expedition, which took place between 23 August – 1 August, was the second of three, based on journeys undertaken by Thomas and Lucy Atkinson in the summer of 1849. Together with their nine-month old son Alatau, the Atkinsons systemmatically explored almost all the rivers valleys that flow northwards from the Djungar Alatau Mountains in the south-east of Kazakhstan, towards Lake Balkhash.

This year’s horseback expedition, organised in conjunction with the Kazakh Geographic Society,  started on the River Sarcan before crossing to the Little Bascan River system and then the Big Bascan River. We also visited the Shumsky Glacier at the base of Peak Tianshansky – the tallest mountain in the Djungar Alatau range.

The aim of these expeditions is to develop an ‘Atkinson Trail’ based on the routes followed by the couple. Next year’s expedition will explore the gorge of the Lepsy River, close to the town of Lepsinsk.

The 2019 Zhetysu Expedition – what a journey!

Peaks in the Djungar Alatau Mountains

Just back from the 2019 Zhetysu Expedition in Eastern Kazakhstan. I will be publishing a full report in due course, but for now I am posting a few pictures of what was a truly incredible experience. Many thanks to Kazgeo for all their help in organising this brilliant journey.

Our original intention this year had been to retrace the journey taken by the Atkinsons in the summer of 1849 from Zhassyl Kol lake to Ala Kol lake, but events conspired to prevent this from happening. The Djungar Alatau National Park officials told us that they were on high fire alert and that they would not be able to spare horses for that specific journey.

Peak Tianshansky and the Shumsky Glacier

Instead, they suggested we might like to complete a journey we had not been able to make last year, due to high water levels in the rivers. This journey started at the Sarcan River, crossed high ridges to the Little Bascan River – including a horse-trek to the base of the Shumsky Glacier at the base of Peak Tianshansky – then another ridge-crossing to the Big Bascan River. In all it made a total of over 120kms.  At 4622m, Peak Tianshansky is the highest in the Djungar Alatau range and the Shumsky glacier is the biggest in Kazakhstan.

We decided to take this route, which had also been followed by the Atkinsons in 1849. It turned out to be a tough route, with numerous crossings of whitewater rivers, but well worth it in terms of the views and sights. We saw ibex, antelope, a wild bear, eagles, marmots and many other remarkable sights. Check below for a small selection of pictures.

Crossing one of many rivers

Ozero Bolshoye Suyrly

A young bear feeding on raspberries

Our guides: Ruslan, Muhit and Nurlan



More pics to follow soon.